Managing a Mobile Platform

There's more to managing a mobile platform than simply tossing a smart phone to your users.

Mobile administrators charged with growing a company's mobile initiatives quickly find that proper management is essential for providing a consistent and predictable experience to mobile users.

However, as a company's use of mobile technologies grows, mobile administrators need to expand their perception of what constitutes mobile management beyond the device and its configuration. They need to account for the ongoing security, application performance and use costs of these devices as well.

Device management, the most common form of mobile management, also offers the most choices for corporations to investigate. Mobile operating system makers such as Microsoft and Research In Motion have their own MDM (mobile device management) systems, as do device makers Nokia, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, and third-party ISVs such as Sybase. MDM solutions can be bought for in-house deployment or as a hosted service provided by a carrier or other third party.

eWEEK Labs finds Zenprise eases BlackBerry management. Read the review here.

These MDM systems provide the basic tool set for managing and monitoring a mobile fleet over the air, allowing administrators to remotely track inventory and maintain consistent firmware revisions across the fleet; deploy, update and configure applications on the device; set up, update and maintain access and configuration policies; and monitor basic device statistics such as memory and storage usage. Depending on the platform, administrators may also be able to do some interactive troubleshooting on the remote devices, or devices may be able to autoheal themselves according to policy.

Save for the solutions delivered by the operating system purveyors, MDM systems will likely have the widest levels of device support, as many MDM systems have been designed to work not only with the common smart-phone platforms, but with the lesser-known platforms found on many feature phones as well.

Therefore, enterprise mobile administrators may find they can start supporting a wider variety of consumer-grade devices brought into the network by users demanding the devices be made to work with the corporate e-mail, VPN and Wi-Fi networks. However, letting all these devices on the network piecemeal could be folly, as it will become nearly impossible to deliver that consistent experience across a wide range of devices with varying capabilities and operating systems.

Administrators will find drastically less varied device support as they extend their management frame of reference to encompass other issues equally important to maintaining a consistent mobile experience. To improve the company's use of mobile devices, administrators will need to ask questions such as: Are my applications working as expected? Are my devices secure? and Am I paying too much for service? Then they will find their MDM systems an insufficient answer. Other solutions are required to tackle these problems, and these solutions typically support a significantly less diverse collection of devices.